Kate and John Coleman (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) are rebuilding their troubled marriage. Kate had a drinking problem, but is in therapy and is doing well. She has been sober for one year since she lost her third child. The couple decides to adopt a child, 9-year-old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman), a little Russian girl, and they are taken by the articulate, artistic orphan. It’s a rough adjustment for Ester at school and with her new brother, Daniel. But youngest daughter Max is enchanted with her. Eventually, Kate begins to feel that Esther is manipulative and possibly even psychologically disturbed. John refuses to listen to his wife’s misgivings, and the wounds in their marriage reopen. Kate calls Sister Abigail at the orphanage, and the nun informs her that Esther has a troubled and mysterious history. Kate delves further into Esther’s past and discovers she is not at all who she pretends to be.

Rating: 5 out of 10

This movie is held together by some very good acting by Farmiga,  who offers a heart-broken mother recovering from alcoholism, Sarsgaard, an apathetic father, and Fuhrman, who is wicked, cruel and excellent as the villain Esther.

But what the movie gains in great performances, it loses in predictability and a director willing to take the easy route out with a story line. Jaume Collet-Serra directs, who has limited directing experience. His best-known work to date is “House of Wax,” which featured Paris Hilton.

Esther is a compelling villain, and the story unwraps patiently, despite its predictability and its silly “big reveal” of Esther’s past — a large part of the mystery of the movie. In the end, however, we’re given a typical suspense-movie action sequence. It’s a shame, because the look of the movie, music, acting, and character development were all successful. The director was just too impatient (or the studio was) to let this unfold with a cruel twist or cunning ending. There is an alternate ending on the DVD that was smarter and scarier than the released version. Not a complete disaster, worth a viewing for suspense and horror fans, but very average.


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